TNA Wrestling gets a hard time. They very nearly went out of business in 2003 but thankfully survived thanks to Panda Energy and Dixie Carter's intervention.
They have grown by leaps and bounds since then: Two hours on Spike TV, reportedly a profitable business model, expansion to the UK market and a roster that boasts legitimate big names like Kurt Angle, The Hardy Boys, Hulk Hogan and Mr. Anderson.
Perhaps that last example is the problem though.
A lot of Internet fans are in a dream world if they think TNA could have progressed without acquiring stars who left WWE. Name recognition is a big hook to grab those who watch the McMahon empire's product.
Big names like Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan boost your brand image in the eyes of sponsors, business partners and TV networks.
Yet there is some truth in Paul Heyman's main criticism of TNA: a lack of definitive differentiation has led to the TNA brand becoming confused and undefined.
As the UFC and MMA have innovated, created, inspired and excited (reaping the financial rewards), TNA for the most part has gone by the numbers.
Steadily they have brought in bigger names who were popularized outside the promotion, but they have not truly defined what makes TNA different from (and better than) the WWE through new top stars.
AJ Styles, Matt Morgan, Samoa Joe and Abyss should all be main-event, homegrown stars in TNA. They can all wrestle, and they are young and different.
What TNA should have done is give these guys a rub off those being brought in to propel them.
Abyss should be the Kane/Undertaker of TNA who makes both of them look cartoonish, as he bloodies opponents mercilessly.
Joe shouldn't have been wasted in silly storylines about being kidnapped and returned. He should be the definition of what TNA is about: hard-hitting wrestling—not Vince McMahon's diluted, constrained sports entertainment.
Morgan could have been Kevin Nash's protege, carving out more of a personality.
Styles did get the rub from Ric Flair, but was turned simply into a comedic Flair Jr. rather than a new Heavyweight-Title-calibre AJ Styles.
The likes of Flair and Hogan (and WCW/WWF for that matter) defined themselves by leading and not following. This is why the X Division was once such a revelation, as it broke ties with all that the WWE was and is doing. Even the X Division has become merely a junior division without the innovation it once had, producing classic matches and unforgettable moments.
The likes of Styles need to be pushed seriously as themselves by using the established big names, not by attempting to clone 50- and 60-year-olds.
Overall, TNA seems reluctant to take a chance, which surprises me given that Vince Russo is part of the writing team. They need to dare to be different if they want to break the 1.5/2.0 ratings barrier in the near future.
They can do it.
Look at how fans started to get behind Jay Lethal, "The Pope" D'Angelo Dinero and others. Then TNA pulled the plug way too early, merely sustaining their young talent without elevating them to the point of competing at the top of the PPV card month in, month out.
A constant stream of ex-WWE talent will provide TNA and Dixie Carter with a business that will sustain, but it will not progress until TNA starts to take risks and innovate, rather than coming across as the WWE B-Team to the casual fan.